[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: Tim Minear and Jeffrey Bell | Director: Tim Minear | Aired: 02/18/2002]
“Couplet” is a decent episode with some important, worthwhile character progressions that inform the upcoming episodes quite a bit. There’s enough stuff here to enjoy, from the zesty, fun dialogue to the character’s thoroughly enjoyable performances, which elevate some unengaging moments to truly funny. And what we get here is important setup for the next few episodes to come, which get significantly heavier and have a profound impact on the rest of the series. The overall quality of the episode is severely hurt, however, by a few seriously nagging inadequacies in the characterization; important details and the impact of past experiences are forgotten in order to serve the comedy and drama of the plot.
The most important thing for the natural evolution of a story is to let the character find the story him or her self, so when plot twists and story directions are generated to move a character through certain motions, one can tell the difference between that type of story and a freer flowing one. The Groosalug has returned to Los Angeles from Pylea, and just as he was ready to admit feelings for Cordelia, Angel has lost her to him and now must deal with his romantic insecurities. As a setup it is intriguing and seems tailored for the characters, but what the writers seem to want out of it to get us ready for the next few episodes conflicts with what has already happened.
Many critics of S3 say that Angel’s behaviour in the season is largely out of character; too happy, snappy and upbeat. For the most part, I think his new human connection to the world that he earned in the wake of “Epiphany” [2×16] and the Pylea arc earned him his right to be happy and snappy. However, this is one of the few instances where Angel really does feel too over the top, too talky, and too immature considering all his most recent experiences, especially in relation to Cordelia. His childish jealousy over the Groosalug simply goes too far.
As a device, it asks us to forget that he has conquered his image issues, knows his worth on an existential level and has forged a mutual bond of respect with Cordelia following the events of “Billy” [3×06] and “Birthday” [3×11]. Those two episodes addressed Angel’s condescending-in-practice need to save everyone around him quite directly, and twice Cordelia proved she was more than capable on her own. Angel is not so thick skulled as to miss the message twice, which he proved in “Waiting in the Wings” [3×13] in which he openly admired her for her growth. In fact, this deep bond of trust and respect is the starting point for their romantic interest in one another.
The same way Buffy and Angel were drawn together in S2 of Buffy by their new beginnings as warriors against evil and people with a clean emotional slate, Cordelia and Angel are drawn together by their new beginnings as mature, burdened, but ultimately good people. So Angel’s emotional journey in this episode rests on something that contradicts the foundations of that which the writers require him to be emotional about in the first place. Ow, my head. This one major flaw aside, “Couplet” is a fun and funny enough ride. Many fans hate the Groosalug, but I enjoyed Mark Lutz’s performance; he plays the fish-out-of-water character with conviction and a good comedic sense of timing.
The makeup on the demon that Groo and Angel slay was very impressive, and the visit to the demon Brothel was hilarious fun and a wonderfully shot sequence all around. Besides the issue with Angel, the character development we see in all the other major players is also solid and well earned. Cordelia in particular has an interesting revelation that goes unknown only to her: she truly does care for Angel over the Groosalug. Though they seem to have a genuine connection at the start, the issue that spurned her to leave Pylea in “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb” [2×22] quickly comes up again: That place, and that role, was nothing but a fantasy. Cordelia is not a princess; she is a complex, mature person.
And the Groosalug, who loves her only because all warriors ‘love’ their princesses, is a fanciful, fun person to be around, but not someone to spend eternity with. Cordelia knows this deep down, but is so moved by his affection for her that she accepts the fantasy, for after all the harsh reality she’s suffered through she feels entitled to it. And why shouldn’t she? But the truth is its not real love, and after some time she does realize that (“Tomorrow” [3×22]). For now, she’s in her fantasy. She wants carefree romance and utter devotion, and to have lots and lots of sex. The only downside is her ignorance of Angel’s true affection, which clearly wounds him.
The end result of the episode is one of surprising potency. The demonic tree which, in parallel to Gunn and the Groosalug, steals hearts away from those with deeper affection, tries to sap Angel’s heart and cannot because there’s nothing there. But the message isn’t that his heart is empty, it is that the physical aspect is irrelevant next to the emotional one. The Groosalug can dress and fight like Angel and can even do a few things he can’t, but it’s Angel that’s brought together this great group to fight demons, and it’s Angel whose mission has inspired their lives and given them to chance be together and know one another. That’s worth far more.
It’s a bit cliche to be sure, but the affinity for the characters the show shares with us earns the resolution. But really, the best material of the hour takes place on the periphery, where we deal with Gunn and Fred and towards the end, Wesley. Despite many fans also saying that Fred and Gunn were a poor pairing, in this episode they seem to have something. No grand love of the ages, to be sure, but a real connection that’s worth exploring. Unlike the Cordy/Groo pairing, there is substance here, and actors J. August Richards and Amy Acker sell the scenario to sweet and believable effect in their scenes. What’s most interesting though, and haters should take note, are the hints for the future.
The relationship, in parallel to Cordy and Groo’s, seems doomed to failure in the future as well. In retrospect of the entire series it’s quite clear, as Fred and Gunn are torn apart by Wesley and their work here. This becomes literally true in S4, in which the pressure of fighting The Beast and Angelus, as well as contending with Wes’ return to the group, eventually causes them to implode. Other factors exacerbate, but it seems that “Couplet” is a neat little microcosm detailing the factors for their demise. The last few minutes of the episode, however, trump anything else here in terms of quality; setting us up for the upcoming closing chapters to the main arc of the season. Angel sends Cordelia away, and Wesley discovers the prophecy.
The rule is that one should always stick around until the very end of a work to see if a show or a movie can redeem any flaws, and this is very true here. What does the false prophecy Sahjahn has constructed mean? At this time, it means nothing specifically. It is an effective cliffhanger in promising us Connor being torn away from Angel just as he has realized, following his loss of Cordelia, that some forms of love themselves are fantasy; Angel will never be alone so long as he has his son, he now believes. Wesley’s translation of this new verse is a shocking way to promise us that big, ugly things are coming, which we know they are.
If we consider AtS a three-act show, “City of” [1×01] to “Reprise” [2×15] would be considered Act One. “Epiphany” [2×16] right up until “Sleep Tight” [3×16] would be considered Act Two, and everything from “Forgiving” [3×17] on would be considered Act Three. Each act is defined by Angel’s mission, and how he approaches it emotionally. Notice how the one in the middle, the happiest one, is the shortest? In retrospect, one almost appreciates this episode for its place in the series: the last hurrah of happiness in the world of Angel Investigations. After “Sleep Tight” [3×16] things are never alright again, so we should enjoy it while it lasts.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Connor vs the Groosalug on being short and tall.
+ Angel trying to compare his height to Groo.
+ Cordy, Groo and Angel all waving to one another.
+ Groosalug: “Angel, your coat is singing.”
+ The Groosalug’s Pylean identification of the demon.
+ Cordelia’s verbage: “Com-shucking like bunnies.”
* The Fred and Gunn relationship already seems interrupted by Wesley and their job. In “Soulless” [4×11] Wes and Gunn actually come to blows over Fred, and the mission against The Beast and Angelus breaks the pair up before the end of S4.
* Wesley, throughout this episode, becomes increasingly isolated as he works on the translation. In “Loyalty” [3×15] and “Sleep Tight” [3×16] this deepens, as he is wracked by what to do about Connor, eventually going off on his own and stealing the baby from Angel.